Mr. Speaker, I am going to have to try to speak really fast because it is hard in 20 minutes to talk about a 360-page bill.
Many will be delighted that after two and a half years the government has finally delivered the campaign promise to bring forward a new federal assessment process. During the 2015 election, the Prime Minister committed that if he became Prime Minister, Kinder Morgan would have to go back to the drawing board, saying the process needed to be redone. When asked if no means no if indigenous peoples opposed a pipeline, the Prime Minister responded yes. Regardless, the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, the Site C dam, and an LNG project were all approved by the government based on the Harper-eviscerated assessment process.
The Minister of Environment, in tabling Bill C-69, said, “The legislation we are introducing today aims to restore public trust in how the federal government makes decisions about major projects, like mines, pipelines, and hydro dams.” This 366-page omnibus bill includes an environmental assessment law, a revised energy regulation law, and a new law on navigation. Therefore, how well would Bill C-69 actually restore public trust by enshrining a strengthened rules-based process including clearly prescribed rights to participate, and respect for indigenous rights and title?
In most instances, the bill leaves these concerns unanswered, either because the bill is rife with discretionary powers or the fact that significant matters are left to yet-to-be-promulgated regulations or rules. Does the bill respond to the recommendations made by the government's appointed expert panel? Again, it does so only partially.
Yesterday, a motion on privilege was filed against the minister for her disdain for the rights of parliamentarians to review this bill. Now, after only two hours of debate, the Liberals have moved to impose time allocation. The parliamentary secretary has just said that his government is open to refinements. It is for these reasons that I am issuing a call for expanded opportunity for Canadians, including indigenous peoples, to directly participate in the review of this bill. This can best be met by having the standing committee conduct hearings in communities across this country. The government advised that the law and associated regulations would not be in place until the spring of 2019. This allows ample time for a process enabling Canadians to express their voices and to recommend amendments.
In the time allotted to me, it will be impossible to discuss this massive bill in its entirety. I will therefore touch only on a few key issues in the bill. Would it restore public trust and confidence? Would it create greater legal certainty? Would it prescribe expanded rights of participation by the public in project reviews and government energy policy? Would it enshrine a clear process to assess government policy consistent with the sustainable development 2030 commitments? Finally, would it respect and deliver on the rights and duties to indigenous peoples as prescribed by the UNDRIP?
First, would the bill restore public trust and confidence as the government has alleged? The expert panel struck by the minister to gauge public views on the federal environmental and energy assessment and regulatory regime made a number of recommendations to reform and strengthen the systems. These included replacing the ad hoc review panels with a new quasi-judicial agency and to disallow federal regulatory bodies from participating in the reviews. Both recommendations were ignored.
While the bill would provide for the appointment of an independent impact assessment agency, review panels would still continue to be appointed on an ad hoc basis and could still include representatives of the Canadian energy regulator and the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador offshore boards.
The bill does expand the factors to be considered by a panel if an assessment proceeds, and that is a big if, including cumulative impacts, contributions to sustainability, impacts to the federal government's obligations on climate change, alternatives, mitigation measures, and impacts to indigenous rights. However, concerns have been raised that little clarity is offered on how these factors are to be considered or weighted. It is noteworthy that the list of factors the minister must consider in deciding if a project is in the public interest is far shorter than those considered by a panel.
Does the bill introduce greater legal certainty? A vast array of duties and powers remains discretionary.
For these and other reasons, I share the views expressed by many, including CELA lawyer, Richard Lindgren, “that the new [environmental assessment] process will not restore public trust or ensure credible, participatory and science-based decision-making.” The best description one can ascribe to Bill C-69 is that it offers a framework for project assessment processes but little certainty for when a federal project is assessed or approved. This observation appears supported by a number of legal experts.
I fully concur with the views expressed by law professor Martin Olszynski from the University of Calgary, who said:
my approach to this legislation--and the basis for one of my main criticisms of it--is to consider what it actually says and requires, not what the current government says it will do as a matter of policy. In my view, environmental law should be written with a view towards potential future governments that may be hostile to environmental concerns. Better rules, in this context, means legislation that would constrain such governments, forcing them to either conform or to - yet again - try to amend the legislation, with all the potential for democratic accountability that comes with that. On this score, much of the legislation introduced last week is wholly inadequate.
A critical determinant to knowing when a project triggers a federal assessment is the project list, yet consultation on the list was only just initiated. Why was it not done over the past two years? Will it include projects excluded by the Conservatives, for example, in situ oil sands operations? Will it include dangerous rail traffic as proposed under my bill, Bill C-304?
While the bill does list some laws that may trigger effects under federal jurisdiction, the responsible ministers still get to decide if an approval or review is even needed. The minister is required only to consider if a project may impact federal lands, have transboundary or transborder impacts, or impact indigenous peoples, health, social or economic matters, not yet established by cabinet.
It should be noted that the minister can allow for the substitution of a provincial assessment regardless if federal powers or duties may be triggered. The majority of the bill extends broad and extensive discretionary powers to the minister of the environment, the new agency, and the cabinet to call for an assessment or not. The minister is not required to call an assessment, even if in her opinion the proposed activity warrants designation due to its adverse effects or due to public concerns. The power currently in place has rarely ever been utilized. It should be mandatory.
My bill, Bill C-304, to the contrary, imposes a mandatory duty on the minister to call for an assessment where, in her opinion, a project may pose significant risks to environment or health or there are public concerns.
There are many discretionary powers to list, but they include the following examples: discretion to decide if an impact assessment is not required even for a designated project; the discretion to decide the scope of factors to be considered; an agency discretion to delegate any part of the impact assessment to other jurisdictions; ministerial discretion to substitute equivalent provincial processes; ministerial discretion to terminate a review panel or remove conditions in an environmental impact assessment decision to revoke or amend the impact decision statement. The minister can even delegate his or her powers, duties, and functions to the agency.
The power to assess regional impacts and strategic assessments also requires greater clarity. The bill provides absolutely no clear triggers for either of those to occur, or any right to trigger them.
The much-touted planning stage sounds remarkably similar to the initial assessment process. There is concern that the new approach is solely reliant on information provided by a project proponent.
Broad concerns have been voiced that the power to approve or reject a project remains vested in the minister or the cabinet, and that while panels can identify adverse effects, they cannot reference any degree of significance. The potential remains for interjection of political considerations to override any of the determination in the review, including sound science. The minister need only determine that the effects are in the public interest.
With regard to public participation, while the government claims that the bill provides strengthened rights to participate, it is remarkably silent in extending any specific rights, including to present evidence or to cross-examine. The agency must merely “provide an opportunity to the public to participate” in the planning stage and assessment of a project in any regional or strategic assessments. The agency is empowered to decide on participant funding, but there is no similar duty to enable funding for strategic reviews.
Regarding indigenous rights, the bill does require the addition of some indigenous participation in panels and advice. Any assessment must consider impacts on indigenous groups or adverse impacts to indigenous rights. The minister, in making a determination on public interest, must also consider adverse impacts of a project on the rights of indigenous peoples, although they are not stated to serve as a bar to approval.
The minister alleges that the bill provides indigenous peoples with “Early and inclusive opportunities for engagement and participation at every stage, in accordance with a co-developed engagement plan, with the aim of securing free, prior and informed consent..”. However, while the justice minister committed last December to ensuring that all federal laws will be made consistent with the UNDRIP, no such specific reference is found in this bill.
The second part of the bill is with respect to the Canadian energy regulator act. An expert panel was also struck to modernize the National Energy Board, whose recommendations included, among them, a new independent Canadian energy information agency, which does not exist in the bill. There was significant public concern with the decision by the Harper government to shift the decision-making power from the NEB to the cabinet, and from the CEAA to the NEB and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
How well does the proposed new regime deliver on these calls for reform? The answer is perhaps best expressed in the analysis by Calgary energy law expert Professor Nigel Bankes, entitled “Some Things Have Changed but Much Remains the Same”, adding that the tabling of a completely new Canadian energy regulation act rather than mere amendments to the NEB Act “no doubt creates the impression that the new Bill represents a wholesale replacement of the NEB rather than mere tinkering.” His analysis suggests that much of the current regime remains unchanged.
The name of the agency is changed, there are several additional requirements for indigenous appointments, and there is the addition of prescribed factors for the Canadian energy regulator to consider. However, what is noteworthy is that unlike the impact assessment panel members, the Canadian energy regulator is not required to consider climate commitments or cumulative impacts. In fact, there is zero mention of climate in the entire Canadian energy regulatory act. This is doubly concerning, as Bill C-69 allows for unlimited CER appointees to each panel. As with the Harper law, the energy regulator may only recommend.
The CER is empowered to review offshore renewable and power line projects. Concerns have been expressed with a potential conflict of interest, as the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland offshore oil boards will participate in assessments of offshore projects. Interestingly, the power to issue export and import oil and gas licences is shifted from the cabinet to the Minister of Environment. The CER may review designated interprovincial power lines, but no such project has to date ever been designated. Legal experts have raised concerns with the lack of legal certainty if the CER is authorized to deliver on the crown's aboriginal consultation duties.
Finally, on the Navigation Protection Act, while the new law counters views once expressed by the Liberals while in opposition, they do mirror recommendations of the Liberal's majority standing committee on transport to maintain much of the downgrades to the law instituted by the Harper government. Erased are the words “navigable waters protection” from the law.
In many instances, the legal protection of our lakes and rivers is even further weakened or left to be determined by yet to be promulgated regulations. The schedule of lakes and rivers is blank, shifting the onus to Canadians to even seek the meagre protections offered under the bill. Public notice and right to participate are very limited.
Gone is the once important trigger for a federal assessment where navigable waters may be impacted. I think immediately of the loss of navigation access by indigenous peoples, who practice their traditional harvests in the many lakes, rivers and marshes in northern Alberta, because the approval of dams and oil sands projects are absent consideration and respect for their treaty and aboriginal rights. The bill offers one vague opening for consideration of these rights. However, based on past experience, the likelihood of genuine consideration and respect is small.
In summation, I implore members to support extended standing committee hearings to ensure opportunities to hear Canadians on their views, including recommended amendments to this bill.